Moses, According to Caleb

A couple weeks ago I was sitting in the teriyaki chicken place, Red Bento, with Caleb, and I could tell he had something to say, so I delayed by immediately wondering out loud about this whole Red Bento issue. “Why must the Bento be red?” was my question. Caleb is my younger brother. I’ve made him cry in public more recently than it would appropriate for me to say. Two months ago.

When I concluded with, “and it’s the whole mind-body duality that we’re really at war with,” Caleb nodded and then waited for me to say more, but I’d harvested every field of inane banter on my topic.

“Here’s something I was thinking about,” Caleb said. Right then our server came for our orders.

When he left, Caleb began again.

“I was thinking,” he said, and was interrupted by another server bringing miso soup.

“Do you know the end of Exodus 4?” He pointed his forehead at me, an angle of intense inquiry.

I wanted to best him with instant recall of the passage, but failing that I said, “In the Bible?”

“Exodus, second book of the Bible, chapter 4. End of the chapter, I don’t remember the verses.”

I looked at Caleb.

“Do you know it?” he said.

“Yes.” I didn’t.

Caleb stuck out his lower lip and nodded.

“As you know, it’s where Moses is heading out of Midian, back to free the Hebrews from Pharaoh, and the Lord shows up and wants to kill him.”

“Right. Coming back from Midian,” I said, making a limp gesture.

“Every time I read that passage, it sticks out to me. I’ve never understood why God wants to kill Moses.”

“But now you think you do,” I said. Our food arrived and deplaned.

“Yeah,” he said, rubbing his chopsticks together in a vigorous attempt either to remove splinters or start a fire.

“It’s because he’s a dick,” Caleb said.

“That sounds like eisegesis,” I said. I assumed that he didn’t know what eisegesis meant. “It’s reading into a text. And it’s dumb.” I pinched triumphantly at the plate of chicken with my chopsticks.

“I know what eisegesis is,” he said. “Here’s what I think’s going on.”

“I don’t really want to hear you use profane language about the patriarchs.”

Caleb smiled again. It was hard to imagine that he didn’t mean such a smile.

“I’m going to talk a lot and I want you to listen and try to actually hear me,” he said.

I pretended to shrug.

“Here’s how the story of Moses goes: he’s hidden at birth, sent out into the water, and picked up and adopted by royalty. And then he kills a guy. He’s a baby and then he murders a man. That’s how the story of Moses opens.

“Maybe he gets away with it because a baby whose life is immediately threatened by an evil empire is pretty much the most sympathetic character ever. But we move immediately from a beset baby — super-sympathetic — to Moses in murdering mode.

I nodded.

“I love that it says, ‘He turned this way and that, and when he saw no one, he struck down the Egyptian.’ This is the second verse about the adult Moses. And to build his character, we have this long description about how he took time to make sure no one saw him kill the Egyptian — not unlike your average murderer. Super-sympathetic. And maybe this Egyptian wasn’t being cruel. Maybe he’s doing a below-average job of beating this guy. Maybe he can’t wait to finish so he can go home and look at some paintings on pots. The text is silent on the matter. Then Moses sees him and kills him.

“Pharaoh hears about this and tries to kill Moses, and Moses has to flee to Midian. Pharaoh himself wants to kill Moses.”

I was getting bored. I don’t like the salad that comes with chicken teriyaki, but I found myself eating it anyway.

“I don’t see what this has to do with God wanting to kill Moses,” I said. Caleb ignored me.

“Here’s why I think there’s some validity to this: Moses keeps acting like a dick.

“Everything God asks him to do, he’s got some question about it, or reason he can’t do it. In the burning bush God asks Moses to deliver his people and Moses says, ‘Why me?’ God says, ‘Go to the people of Israel,’ and Moses says, ‘What if they don’t believe me?’

“Moses tries to undermine the whole project at a basic level. He says, ‘I don’t speak well in front of people.’

“And, behold, Moses continued to bitch, saying, ‘Send the message by whomever you will.’ And Moses caused God to wax angry. Scripture saith, ‘Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses.’ Because Moses is a dick.

“After this, when Moses is traveling back to Egypt from Midian, the LORD shows up and wants to kill Moses. Because that’s what everyone wants to do to Moses.

“And I’ve already said that it’s because he’s a dick. And I think that’s true. But there’s something else.

“Here’s what the Hebrews call a religion: they’re circumcised, and they serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That’s it. They’re aware that maybe they should sacrifice. Moses doesn’t even know God’s name when he comes to him. So Moses and God are going to set up an entire religion. There are a million ways it’ll be new, but one of them is this: Moses and God are going to write things down in a real alphabet, not hieroglyphs.

“And even in his reluctance to speak, Moses is looking forward to the newness of writing. But he’s so excited about making things new, he’s forgotten something more basic.

“When the LORD shows up to kill Moses, Moses’ wife, Zipporah, takes a rock, and circumcises their son, probably Gershom. With a rock, because she’s a badass. And she throws the foreskin at Moses’ feet and says, ‘You are a bridegroom of blood to me,’ which saves Moses from the LORD.

“Moses is going back to free the Hebrews and found a new nation, and he hasn’t even bothered to keep essentially the only component of the Hebrew religion. Circumcision was an old form that Moses didn’t care about.

“Moses continues. He smashes the ten commandments. He strikes the rock instead of speaking to it. After a lifetime of acting this way, he watches God do the newest thing yet; God gives the people of Israel the promised land. And Moses is kept back, old in the old land, dead in the wilderness.”

Caleb’s breathing accelerated as he finished. He looked pleased, but not with himself.

I bunched one corner of my mouth up, and raised an eyebrow, which confers a look of incredulity.

“I think that’s a blasphemous idea,” I said. “I don’t think Moses deserves to be treated like that.”

Caleb’s expression fell very slightly.

I guess what he said has grown on me, because I’m still thinking about it, and it does sort of make sense of why God wanted to kill Moses. I can’t think of any other reason. But I find it annoying that my younger brother would come up with something compelling, which is why I still haven’t told him that it makes sense and probably isn’t blasphemous.

Moses, According to Caleb

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